Dalits worshipping at the Panthapuli temple near Sankarankovil in Tirunelveli district. The law grants them the same rights as other Hindus in the matter of worship at any temple in Tamil Nadu.
THE discriminatory practices against Dalits are in violation of the Constitution and various laws of the land. For instance, the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorisation Act, 1947, speaks of the “rights of all classes of Hindus to enter and offer worship in temples”.
“Notwithstanding any law, custom or usage to the contrary, every Hindu irrespective of the caste or sect to which he belongs shall be entitled to enter any Hindu temple and offer worship therein in the same manner and to the same extent as Hindus in general or any section of Hindus; and no Hindu shall, by reason only of such entry or worship whether before or after the commencement of this Act, be deemed to have committed any actionable wrong or offence or be sued or prosecuted therefor,” it says.
These rights include the “right to bathe in or use the waters of, any sacred tank, well, spring or water-course appurtenant to the temple, whether situated within or outside the precincts hereof” and the “right of passage over any sacred place, including a hill or hillock or a road, street or pathway, which is requisite for obtaining access to the temple”.
The Act makes it clear that whoever “(i) prevents a Hindu from exercising any right conferred by this Act; or (ii) molests or obstructs a Hindu in the exercise of any such right shall be punishable, in the case of first offence, with fine which may extend to one hundred rupees, and in the second case of second or subsequent offence, with imprisonment which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.”
The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, also says that there should be no discrimination in the distribution of any prasadam or theertham in any religious institution on the grounds of caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
The Temple Entry Authorisation and Indemnity Act, 1939, introduced by the Rajaji government also aimed at removing all restrictions on Dalits to enter Hindu temples.
The Madras High Court, in its order dated June 17, 2005, in the case relating to the denial of right to Dalits to pull the Swarnamoortheeswarar temple car at Kandadevi village in Sivaganga district, observed thus: “…Oppression, atrocities and humiliation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is a shameful chapter in our country’s history. For thousands of years the S.Cs and S.Ts in our country have been humiliated, insulted and looked down upon. In fact, even today the so-called upper castes and even Other Backward Classes often look down and insult the members of the S.Cs and S.Ts. This can no longer be tolerated in this modern age of democracy. In the modern age, equality is one of the basic features which characterises this era. Today no people and no community will tolerate being treated as inferior and will oppose such ill-treatment, and will be justified in doing so.”
In the case relating to the closure of Draupadi Amman temple at Kandampatti village in Salem district, the High Court on August 28, 2008, directed the Revenue and HR & CE Departments and the police officials to reopen the shrine within four weeks and ensure adequate protection to Dalits who enter the temple and offer worship.
Expressing anguish at the animosity of caste Hindus and the increasing number of disputes between caste Hindus and Dalits over entry into temples and participation in temple festivals, the court’s Madurai Bench said in an order, in another case, on August 17, 2008, that the court was pained to record that situations like the present one were continuing even in the 21st century. “Even at the time of worshipping God, groups are divided on caste lines. The dominant community in the village is not willing to accommodate the Dalit brethren even at the altar of the god,” the court observed.
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